Updated: Feb 23, 2020
Well, like the title suggests, today we're talking about running in the dark and how to do it without getting run over...or mugged!
Running in the dark is inherently more dangerous than running when it's light for a number of reasons. You are harder to see, people are more likely to be driving tired or drunk, and more violent crimes and DWI's happen at night. (You can see more statistics in this article from TheSleepJudge.com)
You might be thinking I'm here to advocate for running at night (or early in the morning) since I'm so passionate about running, but you'd be wrong. I don't know where you live and I don't know the roads where you run. Maybe you live in a rough area where it's just not safe to be out by yourself at night. Maybe you can only run on roads with no shoulders. You are the only person who should decide whether or not it's safe enough for you to run, period.
Now, if you choose to run in the dark, I've got some pointers to help you do it safely. Even the safest neighborhoods and safest streets are more dangerous at night, but there is a lot we can do to protect ourselves.
So, when I talk about dangers I'm talking specifically about 2 things:
Both of these are real dangers in most areas, and both can be managed if you use common sense and some of the tools and techniques we'll talk about below.
I'm going to break this article down into 2 ways of managing risk and avoiding dangerous situations...practices and gear.
These are things that you can actually do to make yourself safer and avoid risky situations. You will never mitigate all risk in life but taking certain precautions can certainly help us avoid some ugly situations!
Now, I know for some of us running in the dark is almost no more dangerous than running when it's light out. We live in safe neighborhoods and run on populated bike paths, or on streets with nice safe sidewalks!
Again, your best tool in any situation is to use your best judgement and follow your instincts. I don't want you to think of these as rules but as guidelines; things to keep in the back of your head when you step out for your night run.
Always run on sidewalks or against traffic. I am a person that pretty much always runs on the road during the day time. Sidewalks around me are pretty beat up, have lots of frost heaves, and are generally not plowed during the winter. When there is a shoulder on the road, I run on it. EXCEPT AT NIGHT. At nights I always stick to the sidewalks when I can, and if I have to run on the road I make sure I run towards traffic! This allows you to see what's coming and try to get out of the way if need be.
Tell someone where you're going and how long you'll be gone. This is a good thing to do not only when running, but basically when you're doing anything alone. I follow this guideline when I go road/mountain biking, hiking, and running. You don't need to plan your exact route or the hours, minutes, and seconds you'll be gone. But it is a good idea to tell someone a road, landmark or general area (North side of town) where you will be running and for approximately how long...you think it will be 30 mins? An hour? 3 hours?? A general time frame is fine. If you don't return from your run, at least someone will know the general area where to start looking for you (or have the authorities look for you).
Avoid shady locations, seek out populated and well lit areas. You would avoid shady areas if you were going out at night to meet friends, or going to a restaurant, or walking around a city...so it makes sense that you should avoid shady locations while you're going on a night run too! If you see an area that doesn't have more than one route in and out, is poorly lit, or you just have a bad feeling about, just go another way. Whenever you can, seek out will lit and populated areas.
Run with other people. This is a no-brainer that we (that is the royal we) often times forget. You are FAR less likely to be preyed upon when you are with another person. If there is a group of you, you're even safer! Groups runs are a perfect way to have fun with some friends while being able to let down your guard a little.
Your gear is the stuff that you need to help mitigate some of the risk of running in the dark. There are a few things that I think you should always use when going on a run in the dark and a few other things that might be a nice-to-have, depending on the area where you're running!
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Always wear lights!!! Yes, I know reflective clothing is cool too, but honestly, it's not enough! When you wear reflective clothing you are relying on someone having working lights on their car, using those lights, and having those lights pointed directly at you in order to see you! That's relying too much on someone else. I think it's super important to have two type of lights...a headlamp, and some sort of body light. There are endless amounts of options here: clip on lights, handheld lights, light up vests...just look around and try to find one that you like.
Carry your phone, and use these apps... Just...always carry your phone! You never know when you'll need to call someone to pick you up because you've rolled an ankle or something. You can also use a maps application if you end up getting lost. And now, you can get the added, and semi-creepy, bonus of using apps like Find My Friends (free app). I know this will not be everyone's cup of tea, but I use it and I actually like it. It's basically an app that allows you to share your location with other people, indefinitely. So, you can invite people to be in your "group" and the Find My Friends app constantly updates your location on a map. I know, I know, it's kinda weird, but for me it's nice because I can invite my wife to view my location and it updates in real time. She can check her phone and see exactly where I am. Obviously you have control over who you share with and when you're sharing so just turn it off when you want to go people watching at the mall for 3 hours...
Personal alarm These super small, super cheap little devices are just what you think. Push a button and they let out an incredibly loud, shrill noise that might scare off a predator and definitely alert the people around you that you need help. If you're going to buy an alarm, be sure to get one that only requires one handed use. These are my favorite.
Pepper spray Good ol' pepper spray. The perfect way to give someone what they deserve if they really are trying to attack you. If you've ever been pepper sprayed, or even been around pepper spray, you know effective it is. The nice thing is that pepper spray comes in very small and conspicuous cases. My favorite is this POM spray that you can just clip on your shorts. Again, not everyone's cup of tea, but you can't argue it's efficacy!
I just want to re-iterate this one more time, because I think it's important...I'm not suggesting you go run at night. It would be incredibly irresponsible of me to tell you to do that given the fact that I don't know anything about you or where you live. Again...only YOU can prevent forest fi...nope, that's not right...only YOU can decide whether or not running at night is safe enough for you!
And you know what? There are these amazing things called treadmills that work REALLY well for all of us who just don't wanna risk it! There is absolutely no shame in staying inside and getting in a Netflix run!
Well, what do you think? Do you agree with my suggestions of gear and safe practices?
Is there anything else that you do to make running at night a little bit safer? If you've got any suggestions let us know in the comments so we can all make our night runs a little less edgy!!
As always, thanks for reading!